[G.R. NO. 130115 : July 16, 2008]
FELIX TING HO, JR., MERLA TING HO BRADEN, JUANA TING HO & LYDIA TING HO BELENZO, Petitioners, v. VICENTE TENG GUI, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari1 assailing the Decision2 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 42993 which reversed and set aside the Decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Olongapo City, Branch 74, in Civil Case No. 558-0-88.
The instant case traces its origin to an action for partition filed by petitioners Felix Ting Ho, Jr., Merla Ting Ho Braden, Juana Ting Ho and Lydia Ting Ho Belenzo against their brother, respondent Vicente Teng Gui, before the RTC, Branch 74 of Olongapo City. The controversy revolves around a parcel of land, and the improvements established thereon, which, according to petitioners, should form part of the estate of their deceased father, Felix Ting Ho, and should be partitioned equally among each of the siblings.
In their complaint before the RTC, petitioners alleged that their father Felix Ting Ho died intestate on June 26, 1970, and left upon his death an estate consisting of the following:
a) A commercial land consisting of 774 square meters, more or less, located at Nos. 16 and 18 Afable St., East Bajac-Bajac, Olongapo City, covered by Original Certificate of Title No. P-1064 and Tax Declaration No. 002-2451;
b) A two-storey residential house on the aforesaid lot;
c) A two-storey commercial building, the first floor rented to different persons and the second floor, Bonanza Hotel, operated by the defendant also located on the above described lot; andcralawlibrary
d) A sari-sari store (formerly a bakery) also located on the above described lot.3
According to petitioners, the said lot and properties were titled and tax declared under trust in the name of respondent Vicente Teng Gui for the benefit of the deceased Felix Ting Ho who, being a Chinese citizen, was then disqualified to own public lands in the Philippines; and that upon the death of Felix Ting Ho, the respondent took possession of the same for his own exclusive use and benefit to their exclusion and prejudice.4
In his answer, the respondent countered that on October 11, 1958, Felix Ting Ho sold the commercial and residential buildings to his sister-in-law, Victoria Cabasal, and the bakery to his brother-in-law, Gregorio Fontela.5 He alleged that he acquired said properties from the respective buyers on October 28, 1961 and has since then been in possession of subject properties in the concept of an owner; and that on January 24, 1978, Original Certificate of Title No. P-1064 covering the subject lot was issued to him pursuant to a miscellaneous sales patent granted to him on January 3, 1978.6
The undisputed facts as found by the trial court (RTC), and affirmed by the appellate court (CA), are as follows:
[T]he plaintiffs and the defendant are all brothers and sisters, the defendant being the oldest.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
They are the only legitimate children of the deceased Spouses Felix Ting Ho and Leonila Cabasal. Felix Ting Ho died on June 26, 1970 while the wife Leonila Cabasal died on December 7, 1978. The defendant Vicente Teng Gui is the oldest among the children as he was born on April 5, 1943. The father of the plaintiffs and the defendant was a Chinese citizen although their mother was Filipino. That sometime in 1947, the father of the plaintiffs and defendant, Felix Ting Ho, who was already then married to their mother Leonila Cabasal, occupied a parcel of land identified to (sic) as Lot No. 18 Brill which was thereafter identified as Lot No. 16 situated at Afable Street, East Bajac-Bajac, Olongapo City, by virtue of the permission granted him by the then U.S. Naval Reservation Office, Olongapo, Zambales. The couple thereafter introduced improvements on the land. They built a house of strong material at 16 Afable Street which is a commercial and residential house and another building of strong material at 18 Afable Street which was a residential house and a bakery. The couple, as well as their children, lived and resided in the said properties until their death. The father, Felix Ting Ho had managed the bakery while the mother managed the sari-sari store. Long before the death of Felix Ting Ho, who died on June 26, 1970, he executed on October 11, 1958 a Deed of Absolute Sale of a house of strong material located at 16 Afable Street, Olongapo, Zambales, specifically described in Tax Dec. No. 5432, in favor of Victoria Cabasal his sister-in-law (Exh. C). This Deed of Sale cancelled the Tax Dec. of Felix Ting Ho over the said building (Exh. C-1) and the building was registered in the name of the buyer Victoria Cabasal, as per Tax Dec. No. 7579 (Exh. C-2). On the same date, October 11, 1958 the said Felix Ting Ho also sold a building of strong material located at 18 Afable Street, described in Tax Dec. No. 5982, in favor of Gregorio Fontela, of legal age, an American citizen, married (Exh. D). This Deed of Sale, in effect, cancelled Tax Dec. No. 5982 and the same was registered in the name of the buyer Gregorio Fontela, as per Tax Dec. No. 7580 (Exh. D-2). In turn Victoria Cabasal and her husband Gregorio Fontela sold to Vicente Teng Gui on October 28, 1961 the buildings which were bought by them from Felix Ting Ho and their tax declarations for the building they bought (Exhs. C-2 and D-2) were accordingly cancelled and the said buildings were registered in the name of the defendant Vicente Teng Gui (Exhs. C-3 and D-3). On October 25, 1966 the father of the parties Felix Ting Ho executed an Affidavit of Transfer, Relinquishment and Renouncement of Rights and Interest including Improvements on Land in favor of his eldest son the defendant Vicente Teng Gui. On the basis of the said document the defendant who then chose Filipino citizenship filed a miscellaneous sales application with the Bureau of Lands. Miscellaneous Sales Patent No. 7457 of the land which was then identified to be Lot No. 418, Ts-308 consisting of 774 square meters was issued to the applicant Vicente Teng Gui and accordingly on the 24th of January, 1978 Original Certificate of Title No. P-1064 covering the lot in question was issued to the defendant Vicente Teng Gui. Although the buildings and improvements on the land in question were sold by Felix Ting Ho to Victoria Cabasal and Gregorio Fontela in 1958 and who in turn sold the buildings to the defendant in 1961 the said Felix Ting Ho and his wife remained in possession of the properties as Felix Ting Ho continued to manage the bakery while the wife Leonila Cabasal continued to manage the sari-sari store. During all the time that the alleged buildings were sold to the spouses Victoria Cabasal and Gregorio Fontela in 1958 and the subsequent sale of the same to the defendant Vicente Teng Gui in October of 1961 the plaintiffs and the defendant continued to live and were under the custody of their parents until their father Felix Ting Ho died in 1970 and their mother Leonila Cabasal died in 1978.7 (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
In light of these factual findings, the RTC found that Felix Ting Ho, being a Chinese citizen and the father of the petitioners and respondent, resorted to a series of simulated transactions in order to preserve the right to the lot and the properties thereon in the hands of the family. As stated by the trial court:
After a serious consideration of the testimonies given by both one of the plaintiffs and the defendant as well as the documentary exhibits presented in the case, the Court is inclined to believe that Felix Ting Ho, the father of the plaintiffs and the defendant, and the husband of Leonila Cabasal thought of preserving the properties in question by transferring the said properties to his eldest son as he thought that he cannot acquire the properties as he was a Chinese citizen. To transfer the improvements on the land to his eldest son the defendant Vicente Teng Gui, he first executed simulated Deeds of Sales in favor of the sister and brother-in-law of his wife in 1958 and after three (3) years it was made to appear that these vendees had sold the improvements to the defendant Vicente Teng Gui who was then 18 years old. The Court finds that these transaction (sic) were simulated and that no consideration was ever paid by the vendees.
x x x x x x x x x
With regards (sic) to the transfer and relinquishment of Felix Ting Ho's right to the land in question in favor of the defendant, the Court believes, that although from the face of the document it is stated in absolute terms that without any consideration Felix Ting Ho was transferring and renouncing his right in favor of his son, the defendant Vicente Teng Gui, still the Court believes that the transaction was one of implied trust executed by Felix Ting Ho for the benefit of his family'8
Notwithstanding such findings, the RTC considered the Affidavit of Transfer, Relinquishment and Renouncement of Rights and Interests over the land as a donation which was accepted by the donee, the herein respondent. With respect to the properties in the lot, the trial court held that although the sales were simulated, pursuant to Article 1471 of the New Civil Code9 it can be assumed that the intention of Felix Ting Ho in such transaction was to give and donate such properties to the respondent. As a result, it awarded the entire conjugal share of Felix Ting Ho in the subject lot and properties to the respondent and divided only the conjugal share of his wife among the siblings. The dispositive portion of the RTC decision decreed:
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendant as the Court orders the partition and the adjudication of the subject properties, Lot 418, Ts-308, specifically described in original Certificate of Title No. P-1064 and the residential and commercial houses standing on the lot specifically described in Tax Decs. Nos. 9179 and 9180 in the name of Vicente Teng Gui in the following manner, to wit: To the defendant Vicente Teng Gui is adjudicated an undivided six-tenth (6/10) of the aforementioned properties and to each of the plaintiffs Felix Ting Ho, Jr., Merla Ting-Ho Braden, Juana Ting and Lydia Ting Ho-Belenzo each an undivided one-tenth (1/10) of the properties'10
From this decision, both parties interposed their respective appeals. The petitioners claimed that the RTC erred in awarding respondent the entire conjugal share of their deceased father in the lot and properties in question contrary to its own finding that an implied trust existed between the parties. The respondent, on the other hand, asserted that the RTC erred in not ruling that the lot and properties do not form part of the estate of Felix Ting Ho and are owned entirely by him.
On appeal, the CA reversed and set aside the decision of the RTC. The appellate court held that the deceased Felix Ting Ho was never the owner and never claimed ownership of the subject lot since he is disqualified under Philippine laws from owning public lands, and that respondent Vicente Teng Gui was the rightful owner over said lot by virtue of Miscellaneous Sales Patent No. 7457 issued in his favor, viz:
The deceased Felix Ting Ho, plaintiffs' and defendant's late father, was never the owner of the subject lot, now identified as Lot No. 418, Ts-308 covered by OCT No. P-1064 (Exh. A; Record, p. 104). As stated by Felix Ting Ho no less in the "Affidavit of Transfer, Relinquishment and Renouncement of Rights and Interest" etc. (Exh. B: Record, p. 107), executed on October 25, 1966 he, the late Felix Ting Ho, was merely a possessor or occupant of the subject lot "by virtue of a permission granted' by the then U.S. Naval Reservation Office, Olongapo, Zambales". The late Felix Ting Ho was never the owner and never claimed ownership of the land. (Emphasis supplied)chanrobles virtual law library
The affidavit, Exhibit B, was subscribed and sworn to before a Land Investigator of the Bureau of Lands and in the said affidavit, the late Felix Ting Ho expressly acknowledged that because he is a Chinese citizen he is not qualified to purchase public lands under Philippine laws for which reason he thereby transfers, relinquishes and renounces all his rights and interests in the subject land, including all the improvements thereon to his son, the defendant Vicente Teng Gui, who is of legal age, single, Filipino citizen and qualified under the public land law to acquire lands.
x x x x x x x x x
Defendant Vicente Teng Gui acquired the subject land by sales patent or purchase from the government and not from his father, the late Felix Ting Ho. It cannot be said that he acquired or bought the land in trust for his father because on December 5, 1977 when the subject land was sold to him by the government and on January 3, 1978 when Miscellaneous Sales Patent No. 7457 was issued, the late Felix Ting Ho was already dead, having died on June 6, 1970 (TSN, January 10, 1990, p. 4).11
Regarding the properties erected over the said lot, the CA held that the finding that the sales of the two-storey commercial and residential buildings and sari-sari store to Victoria Cabasal and Gregorio Fontela and subsequently to respondent were without consideration and simulated is supported by evidence, which clearly establishes that these properties should form part of the estate of the late spouses Felix Ting Ho and Leonila Cabasal.
Thus, while the appellate court dismissed the complaint for partition with respect to the lot in question, it awarded the petitioners a four-fifths (4/5) share of the subject properties erected on the said lot. The dispositive portion of the CA ruling reads as follows:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the decision appealed from is REVERSED and SET ASIDE and NEW JUDGMENT rendered:
1. DISMISSING plaintiff-appellants' complaint with respect to the subject parcel of land, identified as Lot No. 418, Ts-308, covered by OCT No. P-1064, in the name of plaintiff-appellants [should be defendant-appellant];
2. DECLARING that the two-storey commercial building, the two-storey residential building and sari-sari store (formerly a bakery), all erected on the subject lot No. 418, Ts-308, form part of the estate of the deceased spouses Felix Ting Ho and Leonila Cabasal, and that plaintiff-appellants are entitled to four-fifths (4/5) thereof, the remaining one-fifth (1/5) being the share of the defendant-appellant;
3. DIRECTING the court a quo to partition the said two-storey commercial building, two-storey residential building and sari-sari store (formerly a bakery) in accordance with Rule 69 of the Revised Rules of Court and pertinent provisions of the Civil Code;
4. Let the records of this case be remanded to the court of origin for further proceedings;
5. Let a copy of this decision be furnished the Office of the Solicitor General; andcralawlibrary
6. There is no pronouncement as to costs.
Both petitioners and respondent filed their respective motions for reconsideration from this ruling, which were summarily denied by the CA in its Resolution13 dated August 5, 1997. Hence, this petition.
According to the petitioners, the CA erred in declaring that Lot No. 418, Ts-308 does not form part of the estate of the deceased Felix Ting Ho and is owned alone by respondent. Respondent, on the other hand, contends that he should be declared the sole owner not only of Lot No. 418, Ts-308 but also of the properties erected thereon and that the CA erred in not dismissing the complaint for partition with respect to the said properties.
The primary issue for consideration is whether both Lot No. 418, Ts-308 and the properties erected thereon should be included in the estate of the deceased Felix Ting Ho.
We affirm the CA ruling.
With regard to Lot No. 418, Ts-308, Article XIII, Section 1 of the 1935 Constitution states:
Section 1. All agricultural timber, and mineral lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy and other natural resources of the Philippines belong to the State, and their disposition, exploitation, development, or utilization shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines or to corporations or associations at least sixty per centum of the capital of which is owned by such citizens, subject to any existing right, grant, lease, or concession at the time of the inauguration of the Government established under this Constitution' (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
Our fundamental law cannot be any clearer. The right to acquire lands of the public domain is reserved for Filipino citizens or corporations at least sixty percent of the capital of which is owned by Filipinos. Thus, in Krivenko v. Register of Deeds,14 the Court enunciated that:
'Perhaps the effect of our construction is to preclude aliens, admitted freely into the Philippines from owning sites where they may build their homes. But if this is the solemn mandate of the Constitution, we will not attempt to compromise it even in the name of amity or equity. We are satisfied, however, that aliens are not completely excluded by the Constitution from the use of lands for residential purposes. Since their residence in the Philippines is temporary, they may be granted temporary rights such as a lease contract which is not forbidden by the Constitution. Should they desire to remain here forever and share our fortunes and misfortunes, Filipino citizenship is not impossible to acquire.15
In the present case, the father of petitioners and respondent was a Chinese citizen; therefore, he was disqualified from acquiring and owning real property in the Philippines. In fact, he was only occupying the subject lot by virtue of the permission granted him by the then U.S. Naval Reservation Office of Olongapo, Zambales. As correctly found by the CA, the deceased Felix Ting Ho was never the owner of the subject lot in light of the constitutional proscription and the respondent did not at any instance act as the dummy of his father.
On the other hand, the respondent became the owner of Lot No. 418, Ts-308 when he was granted Miscellaneous Sales Patent No. 7457 on January 3, 1978, by the Secretary of Natural Resources "By Authority of the President of the Philippines," and when Original Certificate of Title No. P-1064 was correspondingly issued in his name. The grant of the miscellaneous sales patent by the Secretary of Natural Resources, and the corresponding issuance of the original certificate of title in his name, show that the respondent possesses all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications to acquire alienable and disposable lands of the public domain. These issuances bear the presumption of regularity in their performance in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
Registration of grants and patents involving public lands is governed by Section 122 of Act No. 496, which was subsequently amended by Section 103 of Presidential Decree No. 1529, viz:
Sec. 103. Certificate of title pursuant to patents. Whenever public land is by the Government alienated, granted or conveyed to any person, the same shall be brought forthwith under the operation of this Decree. It shall be the duty of the official issuing the instrument of alienation, grant, patent or conveyance in behalf of the Government to cause such instrument to be filed with the Register of Deeds of the province or city where the land lies, and to be there registered like other deeds and conveyance, whereupon a certificate of title shall be entered as in other cases of registered land, and an owner's duplicate issued to the grantee. The deeds, grant, patent or instrument of conveyance from the Government to the grantee shall not take effect as a conveyance or bind the land, but shall operate only as a contract between the Government and the grantee and as evidence of authority to the Register of Deeds to make registration. It is the act of registration that shall be the operative act to affect and convey the land, and in all cases under this Decree registration shall be made in the office of the Register of Deeds of the province or city where the land lies. The fees for registration shall be paid by the grantee. After due registration and issuance of the certificate of title, such land shall be deemed to be registered land to all intents and purposes under this Decree.16 (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
Under the law, a certificate of title issued pursuant to any grant or patent involving public land is as conclusive and indefeasible as any other certificate of title issued to private lands in the ordinary or cadastral registration proceeding. The effect of the registration of a patent and the issuance of a certificate of title to the patentee is to vest in him an incontestable title to the land, in the same manner as if ownership had been determined by final decree of the court, and the title so issued is absolutely conclusive and indisputable, and is not subject to collateral attack.17
Nonetheless, petitioners invoke equity considerations and claim that the ruling of the RTC that an implied trust was created between respondent and their father with respect to the subject lot should be upheld.
This contention must fail because the prohibition against an alien from owning lands of the public domain is absolute and not even an implied trust can be permitted to arise on equity considerations.
In the case of Muller v. Muller,18 wherein the respondent, a German national, was seeking reimbursement of funds claimed by him to be given in trust to his petitioner wife, a Philippine citizen, for the purchase of a property in Antipolo, the Court, in rejecting the claim, ruled that:
Respondent was aware of the constitutional prohibition and expressly admitted his knowledge thereof to this Court. He declared that he had the Antipolo property titled in the name of the petitioner because of the said prohibition. His attempt at subsequently asserting or claiming a right on the said property cannot be sustained.
The Court of Appeals erred in holding that an implied trust was created and resulted by operation of law in view of petitioner's marriage to respondent. Save for the exception provided in cases of hereditary succession, respondent's disqualification from owning lands in the Philippines is absolute. Not even an ownership in trust is allowed. Besides, where the purchase is made in violation of an existing statute and in evasion of its express provision, no trust can result in favor of the party who is guilty of the fraud. To hold otherwise would allow circumvention of the constitutional prohibition.
Invoking the principle that a court is not only a court of law but also a court of equity, is likewise misplaced. It has been held that equity as a rule will follow the law and will not permit that to be done indirectly which, because of public policy, cannot be done directly...19
Coming now to the issue of ownership of the properties erected on the subject lot, the Court agrees with the finding of the trial court, as affirmed by the appellate court, that the series of transactions resorted to by the deceased were simulated in order to preserve the properties in the hands of the family. The records show that during all the time that the properties were allegedly sold to the spouses Victoria Cabasal and Gregorio Fontela in 1958 and the subsequent sale of the same to respondent in 1961, the petitioners and respondent, along with their parents, remained in possession and continued to live in said properties.
However, the trial court concluded that:
In fairness to the defendant, although the Deeds of Sale executed by Felix Ting Ho regarding the improvements in favor of Victoria Cabasal and Gregorio Fontela and the subsequent transfer of the same by Gregorio Fontela and Victoria Cabasal to the defendant are all simulated, yet, pursuant to Article 1471 of the New Civil Code it can be assumed that the intention of Felix Ting Ho in such transaction was to give and donate the improvements to his eldest son the defendant Vicente Teng Gui'20
Its finding was based on Article 1471 of the Civil Code, which provides that:
Art. 1471. If the price is simulated, the sale is void, but the act may be shown to have been in reality a donation, or some other act or contract.21 Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
The Court holds that the reliance of the trial court on the provisions of Article 1471 of the Civil Code to conclude that the simulated sales were a valid donation to the respondent is misplaced because its finding was based on a mere assumption when the law requires positive proof.
The respondent was unable to show, and the records are bereft of any evidence, that the simulated sales of the properties were intended by the deceased to be a donation to him. Thus, the Court holds that the two-storey residential house, two-storey residential building and sari-sari store form part of the estate of the late spouses Felix Ting Ho and Leonila Cabasal, entitling the petitioners to a four-fifths (4/5) share thereof.
IN VIEW WHEREOF, the petition is DENIED. The assailed Decision dated December 27, 1996 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 42993 is hereby AFFIRMED.
1 Under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.
2 Rollo, pp. 49-62; penned by Associate Justice Eduardo G. Montenegro, concurred in by Associate Justices Antonio M. Martinez and Celia Lipana-Reyes.
3 Id. at 78.
4 Id. at 78-79.
5 Id. at 79.
6 Id. at 80.
7 Id. at 53-55.
8 Id. at 84-85.
9 Article 1471 of the Civil Code provides:
Art. 1471. If the price is simulated, the sale is void, but the act may be shown to have been in reality a donation, or some other act or contract.
10 Rollo, p. 86.
11 Id. at 55-57 (emphasis supplied).
12 Rollo, pp. 60-61.
13 CA Records, p. 235.
14 79 Phil. 461 (1947).
15 Id. at 474 (emphasis supplied).
16 Property Registration Decree, P.D. No. 1529, - 103.
17 This rule does not apply where the land covered by a patent issued by the Government had previously been determined in a registration proceeding and adjudicated in favor of a private individual other than the patentee, which situation is not present in this case.
18 G.R. No. 149615, August 29, 2006, 500 SCRA 65.
19 Id. at 68.
20 Rollo, pp. 85-86 (emphasis supplied).
21 Civil Code, Art. 1471.